The Defense Rests; Pack Should Corral Broncos

There are things in life that just don't happen: The Vikings don't win Super Bowls. Gilbert Brown doesn't drive past a Burger King. The Denver Broncos don't win in Wisconsin. OK, the sample size is kind of small--they're winless in five visits. But combine their history with the current state of both teams and the Packers are in good position to close out the first quarter of the season at 4-0.

Should there be warning signs? Absolutely. Despite the 3-0 start, the team has not put forth a complete dominating effort yet. And they will line up without four opening day starters: Nick Collins, Bryan Bulaga, Mike Neal and Ryan Grant.

As for the Broncos, they're getting healthier, particularly on defense. Most importantly, they'll get pass rusher extraordinaire Elvis Dumervil back--he's missed the past two games. Paired with #2 pick in the draft, Von Miller, the two form an impressive pair of pass rushers. New head coach John Fox also gets linebacker D.J. Williams, back. He hasn't played all season with an elbow injury. Finally, future Hall of Famer cornerback Champ Bailey is expected back from a hamstring injury, though his snaps may be limited.

But even with those guys back, the Pack should have little trouble moving the ball up and down the field. The Broncos have been blitz-crazy so far this season, a recipe for disaster against Aaron Rodgers. They have to hope the return of Dumervil will allow them to try to get pressure with their base 4-3. A matchup to watch will be Marshall Newhouse against the rookie Miller. Newhouse stepped in ably for the injured Bulaga last week and with a week of first string reps in practice, he should be ready to handle the challenge.

The Broncos have veteran Brian Dawkins (16th season) at safety and he's still a big hitter, but besides Bailey, the rest of the secondary is just so-so: rookie safety Rahim Moore has been okay, corners Cassius Vaughn and Jonathan Wilhite are the definition of average. There is no way they can match up with the Packers receivers.

Where the Packers really have an advantage is when the defense is on the field. The top-ranked rush defense will face veteran Willis McGahee, who is averaging less than three yeards per carry. He was brought in as a free agent to compete with former first rounder Knowshon Moreno, who's been a disappointment and can't stay healthy. Moreno's missed the last two games with a hammy, but is expected back against the Pack.

Kyle Orton remains the lame-duck QB. The Broncos came this close to dealing him to the Dolphins after the lockout, but then realized they had no one on the roster behind him. The fan base is clamoring for Tim Tebow, but many in Denver believe next year's starter is not currently on the roster. I've always liked Orton (despite the fact that he's a Purdue guy). He showed some guttiness when he was in Chicago and beat the Pack more than once. He's not mobile and gets a lot of balls batted down at the line of scrimmage.

To make things tougher for Orton, he will be without two of his top four receivers. Eddie Royal and Demaryius Thomas are out, leaving Brandon Lloyd and former Gopher Eric Decker as the only reliable receivers. Tight End Virgil Green won't cause any mismatched either. It's a pedestrian offense that needs to be completely reconfigured.

As for the Pack, they are without Ryan Grant this week and Mike McCarthy said James Starks and John Kuhn will comprise the running back rotation. Don't be surprised if you see Alex Green at some point too, especially if the Packers build a big lead. Chad Clifton will need to handle Dumervil--a stiff test, but he handled Julius Peppers last week.

Is there a danger that this is a trap game? Sure. This game falls between games against the two last teams the Pack knocked out of the NFC playoffs, Chicago and Atlanta. Look no further back than last year, when the Pack lost an early season home game to a mediocre AFC team: Miami. The coaches can point to that game and hammer it home all week, but these guys are human. You just hope that their first game back at home in 24 days will keep them sharp because on paper this should be the easiest game on the schedule.

Pack 31 Broncos 10


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